Automakers had been building high-performance models for decades, but it wasn’t until the GTO that the muscle car formula really took root. By the end of the 1960s Detroit was in the midst of a full-on horsepower war as everyone tried to outdo everyone else.
One car after another rolled out of Detroit (and Kenosha) with a big engine under the hood, bold graphics on the side, and at least one chrome emblem proclaiming its volumetric superiority. There was something for everyone, from mild to wild. If you wanted solid lifter cams, sway bars thicker than your thumb, and tires wide enough to launch a dragster, no problem. Just tick the appropriate boxes on the order sheet.
Some of the best of these machines cross the block next month at RM Sotheby’s Fort Lauderdale auction. We flipped through the catalog to come up with a list of cars we especially like. There’s something for everyone.
This Plum Crazy Challenger spent three decades in hibernation before receiving a thorough restoration with loads of NOS parts. It’s equipped with the 390-horsepower 440-cubic-inch V-8 with Six Pack induction that breathes through a shaker hood scoop. With an engine this brawny, why hide it? This one’s nearly as potent (and desirable) as the legendary Hemi, and delivers every bit as much muscle car cred. The pre-sale estimate sits at the top end of our valuation estimate, but with its shaker hood and pistol-grip-shifted four-speed—two options that add 35 percent to the value—you could see it go even higher.
The two seat AMX is more of a sports car, but it has so much in common with the Javelin that we feel it belongs in the same conversation. Its 390-cubic-inch V-8 and flamboyant stripes and side pipes all but scream muscle car, while the figured wood accents in the understated interior add a touch of luxury. The automatic transmission makes this AMX slightly less desirable, although you’d never be able to build one this nice for $30,000.
The only thing we find wrong with a Super Bee is that it isn’t a Charger. It’s tough to live in the shadow of that beauty, but packing a big-block and a four-speed makes it easier. This example wears bumblebee stripes on the tail with the drag racing cartoon bee on each quarter panel, matching the emblem in the grille. Upping the muscle car quotient are the functional hood scoops that feed a “Ramcharger” intake and keep the Bee’s 383 V-8 breathing free.
The Cougar was Ford’s upscale pony car, which means you’re more likely to see them with options that lean toward comfort, not performance. That said, stuffing a 428 Cobra Jet into any big cat makes it a formidable foe at the drag strip, even if has air conditioning, power steering, and power brakes. According to its Marti report, the options on this Competition Green coupe add up to make it a one of one.
Pontiac offered just two engines on the first-year Trans Am, the ultra-rare Ram Air IV 400-cubic-inch beast that made 345 horsepower—and the less powerful, but still intimidating, Ram Air III with 335 horsepower found in this car. Although less powerful, the Ram Air III makes this six-figure bird a whole lot more affordable. This highly-optioned model features power brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a three-speed automatic.
Buick’s reputation of building comfortable, understated luxury cruisers gave its muscle cars a bit of a sleeper quality. People would be forgiven if they didn’t expect a Buick to be packing a big-block with Cool-Dual induction drawing air through functional hood scoops, which is exactly what the GS 400 did. The big-block engine made 340 horsepower when the car debuted in 1967. The Stage 1 package, which Buick installed in the factory starting in 1969, added a high-flow exhaust, recurved distributor, high-flow fuel pump, revamped carb tuning, a more aggressive camshaft, and cylinder heads with better air flow and bigger valves. The package bumped output to 350 horsepower. If that seems like a lot of work for a small gain, well, Buick sandbagged the figures. Its drag strip performance proved it.